“Squeeze Her Hand”

A piece that inspires togetherness and healing amidst the pandemic

0
952
Photo courtesy of Will Howitt '22

On Friday, Mar. 4, and Saturday, Mar. 5, the Muhlenberg music department presented a performance of “Squeeze Her Hand,” an original song cycle by Will Howitt ‘23, in the Baker Center for the Arts Recital Hall. 

“Squeeze Her Hand” tells a story through the eyes of Howitt’s family, as they cope with the passing of their beloved Bubbe in different ways. 

The production was presented with the help of both faculty and students within the music department, including staff accompanist Vincent Trovato, whose piano accompaniment of the live performance provided a dynamic foundation for the storytelling that would transpire over the duration of the experience.

“I may have written the music and lyrics, but it’s the humanity and personality that the singers brought to the work that instills it with life.”

-Will Howitt ’23

Additionally, the creative team was joined by Brian Chu, adjunct professor of voice, who took on the role of vocal coach. Each week, Chu would meet with the singers, and worked through the specifics of the songs in terms of both acting and musicality.

“What struck me most during the process of coaching the singers to find their essential connection to the thoughts of Will’s family members—was how, by telling their personal stories of living through the loss of a loved one to COVID, he created an eminently relatable vehicle for his audience to find communion and catharsis in mourning and remembering those we lost in this pandemic,” explained Chu. “Will gave a ‘soft’ debut of two of the songs in one of my studio performance classes, and in the stark way in which he used silences to evoke alienation, he reduced the entire class to tears. That was when I realized how powerfully and authentically his music spoke to our need for healing, with vehicles of such topical immediacy as Will’s cycle.”

Howitt derived the narrative and lyrics from a series of interviews with his immediate family, which were played throughout the show. These clips were designed and placed by Howitt, and were played by house managers Abigail Sherman ‘22 and Eamon Bonner ‘25. Heart-wrenching apexes of the performance were highlighted through careful shifts in lighting, which were orchestrated by co-technical designers Tryston Morgan ‘23 and Josiah Curet-Denny ‘24.  

Howitt continued, “Keeping things simple in terms of staging and lighting was extraordinarily helpful in making sure the process went smoothly. These decisions still felt truthful, but didn’t overcomplicate the emotions we were trying to convey.”

All in all, it was clear from the emotion filling the room at the close of the show that audience members, whether involved in the process or not, felt an immense sense of enthusiasm, pride and hope for the future of music composition and performance programs at Muhlenberg. 

“I’m so grateful to have been a part of something that resonated with people so strongly. The show is relevant due to COVID-19, but goes further in exploring the grieving process, how we move on, and the value of someone’s memory when they’re no longer with us. I also loved the music Will wrote for this too, because it’s not always predictable and the story flowed nicely. Meeting the person I got to portray was also a first for me,” said Joe Grisanzio ‘23, a singer in the company.

“Will gave a ‘soft’ debut of two of the songs in one of my studio performance classes, and in the stark way in which he used silences to evoke alienation, he reduced the entire class to tears.”

-Brian Chu

“I think it’s mainly about giving over to the interpretations and perspectives of the people you work with. Accepting both feedback and contrasting opinions from your colleagues is what makes a better show,” explained Howitt. “I may have written the music and lyrics, but it’s the humanity and personality that the singers brought to the work that instills it with life.”

A high-quality recording of the show will be available to stream for free on Muhlenberg’s website at the end of March.

Danny Milkis '23 is a Media & Communication student at Muhlenberg who has a specific interest in writing and journalism. In high school, he took part in extracurricular writing whenever possible, and received a Metropolitan Award nomination for his work as a Student Performing Arts Critic. He is ecstatic to have joined the staff of talented writers and editors at the Muhlenberg Weekly, and is excited to learn from this wonderful group of knowledgeable individuals throughout his time at Muhlenberg.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here